National Geographic : 1939 Oct
WE KEEP HOUSE ON AN ACTIVE VOLCANO After Flying to Study a Spectacular Eruption in Belgian Congo, a Geologist Settles Down on a Newborn Craterless Vent for Eight Months' Study BY DR. JEAN VERHOOGEN University of Brussels EARLY in February, 1938, news came through to Belgium that an erup tion had started at the volcano Nyamlagira in the Albert National Park, Kivu District, Belgian Congo. The watchful superintendent of the park, who had been observing the volcano for many years, had predicted the eruption for early in 1938. His predictions were fulfilled on January 28, when the volcano erupted in an extraordinary manner. A number of huge fissures opened on the southeastern and southwestern flanks of the mountain, a deluge of lava poured out, rushed down at terrific speed, set hundreds of square miles of forest on fire, and trapped large numbers of antelope which were later found completely carbonized. Tremendous founderings occurred in the crater as a result of the drainage of lava through the fissures. The pools collapsed into a deep chimney, and the crater pre sented a scene worthy of Milton's descrip tion of Chaos in ParadiseLost. The superintendent was at the crater of the volcano at the time of the eruption. He had seen the beginning and had sent reports which indicated the eruption was unusual, scientifically interesting, and spec tacular (page 526). GEOLOGISTS, IF NOT LAYMEN, WELCOME VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS Geologists welcome news of a volcanic eruption, as it affords them a chance to gain information concerning the processes active inside our earth. An opportunity as good as this could not be missed. The University of Brussels (Cassel Fund) decided to co-operate with the National Park Institute and offered me the oppor tunity of flying to the park to study the eruption. The idea of a volcanological investiga tion at Nyamlagira had been my dream for many years before the eruption; consequently, I knew fairly well how I wished to plan for such an undertaking. It is one thing, however, to prepare lei surely for an expedition with plenty of time ahead; and another to be thrust into an air plane bound for mid-Africa, with an allow ance of exactly 200 pounds of luggage, oneself included. I remember little of those three days in the air from Marseille to Port Bell, Uganda. Weather was bad and we flew rather high all the way. In the intervals between con sidering air sickness as much more than a remote possibility, my thoughts were oc cupied mainly with the volcano. For all I knew, the eruption might have stopped by that time, or the volcano might object to my intrusion. In either event, there would be no use en route for the new camera which was traveling under heavy seals in a separate compartment, since Italy and Greece were then forbidden lands for amateur aerial photographers. TO THE EQUATOR, WITH WARM CLOTHES Having been warned of the cold weather that usually prevails at high altitude on the volcano, I was carrying warm and thick clothes with me. I realize they probably looked a bit comic in Khartoum, but they came in handy on the volcano where the temperature, in spite of the glowing lava, would commonly drop to a mere 41 ° F., which, for an erupting vol cano right under the Equator, is admittedly very low. When I got off the plane at Port Bell, on Lake Victoria, however, I indulged in a few shirts which looked more like the local style than did my heavy camel's-hair coat worn from Europe. The distance from Lake Victoria to the Albert National Park in the Belgian Congo is just a long day's ride (map, page 515). The headquarters of the park are located at Rutshuru, halfway between Lake Edward and Lake Kivu, some 22 miles northeast of Nyamlagira.